James Blish (1921 – 1975)

James Blish (East Orange, New Jersey, May 23, 1921 - Henley-on-Thames, July 29, 1975) was an American author of fantasy and science fiction.

Blish also wrote criticism of science fiction using the pen-name William Atheling Jr.

Blish trained as a biologist at Rutgers and Columbia University, and spent 1942-1944 as a medical technician in the U.S. Army. After the war he became the science editor for the Pfizer pharmaceutical company. His first published story appeared in 1940, and his writing career progressed until he gave up his job to become a professional writer. Perhaps his most famous works were the 'Okies' stories in Astounding Science Fiction, known collectively as the 'Fallen Star). The second was the development of an antigravity device known as the 'spindizzy'. Since the device became more efficient as its field of influence was increased, entire cities were lifted from Earth and sent roving amongst the stars. The stories were pure space opera, and could have continued as a series indefintely, were it not for Blish setting the end of the Universe in 4004 AD (the chronology in early editions of They Shall Have Stars differed somewhat from the later reprints, showing that this had not been planned by Blish at the beginning of the series). The adventures the Okies have as they run across various civilizations prefigure, in some ways, those of the Enterprise in the original series of Star Trek, which Blish novelized.

Another group of novels were (apparently retrospectively) declared by Blish to be a trilogy, each dealing with an aspect of the price of knowledge, and given the overall name by Blish of 'The Day after Judgement, were written using the assumption that the ritual magic for summoning demons as described in grimoires actually worked. In the first book, a wealthy arms manufacturer comes to a black magician with a strange request: he wishes to release all the demons from hell for one night to see what might happen. The book mainly consists of a lengthy description of the summoning ritual, and the grotesque figures of the demons as they appear. The book ends with Baphomet announcing to the participants that the demons can not be compelled to return to hell: the War is over, and God is dead. The Day After Judgment shows the characters from the first book, and the realisation that God may not be dead, as something appears to be restraining the actions of the demons upon Earth.

Of Blish's short stories, his most famous are the 'Pantropy' stories (collected in Surface Tension, in which generations of microscopic aquatic humans battle with the other occupants of their world, eventually building a space ship to cross to other worlds - at the climax of the story, the two-inch long wooden spacecraft trundles along on caterpillar treads to the next puddle(!)

Blish collaborated with Norman L. Knight on a series of stories set in a world with a population a thousand times that of today, and followed the efforts of those keeping the system running, collected in one volume as A Torrent Of Faces.

He is credited with coining the term gas giant, in the story "Watershed" as it appeared in the anthology Beyond Human Ken (Ed. Judith Merrill, 1954). This is one of those terms that has escaped from the field of science fiction to become entirely standard in the scientific literature.

In 1968, Blish emigrated to England, and lived in Oxford until his death from lung cancer in 1975.

Books by James Blish